Query Critique: Halfway to Anywhere
After three days of lying in bed with her life crumbling around her, college freshman Stephanie Miller needs to get out of her room before she goes insane. She decides to go to the One Force House; a guy she’d met recently had told her she could come there if she ever needed a “little rest.” She doesn’t expect to get roped into attending a One Force Study Session, and she doesn’t expect it change her life. But that’s exactly what happens.
Dr. Colby, the group’s leader, seems to understand her as no one ever has. In the following weeks, as Stephanie attends trainings and gains the wisdom of his teachings, she can feel her old values drop away like garbage. It’s exhilarating to liberate herself from her own selfishness. But to continue her work with the group, she needs a favor from her older sister Ari, who has Down Syndrome and lives at home.
On one hand, Ari is happy to be asked. It feels good to have another secret with Steffi, just like their Pinky Swear about the Teenage Pregnancy. On the other hand, the “special favor” doesn’t seem right. And why does Steffi say the trainings are the only important thing? She might be doing a very big mistake. But if Ari tells, Steffi will go back to how she was before, that she said don’t come up to her in the halls, and don’t hug and don’t talk. She could lose Steffi forever. Ari has to decide what’s more important.
And Stephanie must decide how much she’s truly willing to give up for One Force.
HALFWAY TO ANYWHERE is a 97,000 word work of literary fiction, with chapters alternating between Stephanie’s third-person view and Ari’s first-person view.
I am a freelance writer and member of a weekly critique group. I blog at (link). My freelance articles are linked on my website, (link). HALFWAY TO ANYWHERE is my first novel.
Thank you for your consideration.
This author said she’s received a whole bunch of form rejections in the last couple of weeks, and doesn’t know why. So I’ll try to answer the “why.”
The query gets off to a rough start. I’m not excited about an 18-year-old, probably depressed about some breakup, “lying in bed for three days.” I already don’t want to spend time with her. The second sentence introduces the concept of One Force, which is at first confusing since we don’t know what it is; but by the third sentence I was realizing this was going to be a story about a girl getting sucked into a cult, and my interest was flagging.
I think the first paragraph needs to go. There are quite a few wasted words that don’t add to my understanding or enjoyment of the story. Lying in bed for three days? Some guy told her to drop by? These are totally irrelevant. The important thing in this paragraph is that a college freshman gets sucked into a cult. You could just start with something simple like that, because the real story starts later.
Paragraph #2: The first three sentences explain what’s happening in the story, but they’re not all that interesting. I’m having trouble envisioning chapter after chapter of Stephanie gaining wisdom and liberating herself from her selfishness. What’s that look like on the page? It’s a lot of internal work and it sounds like a lot of talking. I don’t get a hint of how the novel might show Stephanie’s internal changes through external actions, relationships, decisions.
The last sentence of that paragraph takes an odd turn, and I honestly don’t know what to think of it, so I just keep reading.
Paragraph #3: The POV switch is awkward for me. Took me a couple sentences to realize what had happened, so I stumbled and had to go back and read again. (I wouldn’t recommend an out-of-the-blue POV switch like this in a query.) Once I understood and read the whole paragraph, I felt like Ari’s voice was a bit forced and her naive view of Stephanie seemed overplayed.
With the end of that paragraph, plus the single sentence of paragraph #4, we have what looks like the central conflict.
Conflict is good, but it has to be interesting conflict, and I’m not sure there’s enough here to capture me. I don’t know what Stephanie wants from Ari, and I’m not sure whether knowing it would increase my interest at all.
I also have the same problem at the end that I did in the very first sentence: Why should I like or care about this protagonist enough to stick with her? She’s trying to pull something over on her innocent sister, which seems just plain cruel.
Where is the jeopardy? Who am I supposed to root for? Am I supposed to feel bad for Stephanie because she’s been brainwashed by the cult? What are the stakes here?
Seems like a cult story should have really high stakes. What’s going to happen if Stephanie doesn’t get out of it? Should I be worried for Ari?
There is not enough here to convey a story with tension, rooting interest, characters we care about, and a reason to keep turning the page. For all I know, this book could be a fantastic read but the query’s not making it seem that way. So I think you need to go back and find the tension; identify the stakes. What’s going to make me care about this story?
You also have an odd situation of two unreliable narrators, and I’m not sure it’s going to work. I can’t trust Stephanie because she’s under cult influence; I know Ari might not always see things clearly because of her innocence. In the right hands, two unreliable narrators could make for a story crackling with tension and twists; but I’m not sensing that’s the case here.
This query might garner more interest if it were rewritten in a way that really highlights the conflict and makes me care about the outcome. I’d also leave out calling it “literary fiction” and call it women’s fiction instead.
Hope that helps!
Readers: Your thoughts?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent